from Emily Luttrull
I like advent. In the middle of everyone’s busiest season, it’s a call to wait and to pay attention to your waiting: a designated time to anticipate the Lord made manifest, a unification of spiritual and physical. It’s a time to stop and experience that thrill of hope. It’s strange and mysterious, like the whole season is being played in a minor key and lit by candles.
I like advent, but I’m not very good at it. I don’t like to wait. For me, it takes more dedication to be still than it does to act. I like advent, but I like Christmas better.
In Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard once called the creek in her backyard a kind of Christmas. Nature’s beauty seemed to her to be an incarnation. It was God made flesh; creation was a manifestation of divinity, “a grace wholly gratuitous.” She wrote about watching a praying mantis lay eggs, sleeping beneath the stars, observing pond scum under a microscope.
All of these things were a wonder to her, and nature’s beauty a pure extravagance. Everywhere she looked was some new glory. And not only that, but to see beauty in creation at all was a miracle, an unmerited grace. The universe didn’t have to be beautiful, yet it is, sometimes overwhelmingly so. She wrote that we are drowning in intricacies and wonders and profligacies. It isn’t just possible to see beauty in everything, it’s impossible not to.
To Dillard, glory was inescapable. But it was also elusive. It takes time and skill to see wildlife. You have to be quiet and motionless; Dillard described the hours of stillness waiting to glimpse a muskrat as though they were some sort of vigil. Any movement would ruin the whole thing. Some days, her patience was rewarded with a few minutes of observation, an opportunity to see a muskrat scamper out of its hole and into the creek. Most days, it wasn’t.
I am not as patient as Dillard. If creation’s wonder is a Christmas, she mastered advent with her relentless persistence and relentless stillness. I am not willing to sit for hours, come home empty handed, and return again the next day. I don’t like not knowing.
But in doing so, I forget the mystery of the season: the joy of anticipation, the thrill of hope. I want to skip the waiting because I forget there is purpose in being in the middle of the unknown. In the hurry to get to wherever I’m going, I forget that perhaps God wants me to be content in the moment, even if the moment is quiet. Sometimes to go further, you have to be still. The wait for Christmas can be as wondrous as Christmas itself.
It may be that the truest celebration of advent is to sit as Dillard sat on a bridge, motionless and relentless, and be willing to see whatever it is I will be shown.